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Money should Stink

In 2001, I was drunk in a Wisconsin Arby’s drinking a large Jamocha shake. I sat near a blind woman working on a Big Montana and Curly Fries. It was then I had a vision for a U.S. currency for the blind. It had various scents to represent amounts. So, a $10 would smell like cherries, a $1 like vanilla, $500 like pine trees, etc. The folks at the U.S. Treasury department did not respond to my three e-mails.

Now I feel vindicated.

A federal judge said today that the U.S. government discriminates against blind people by printing money that all looks and feels the same. U.S. District Judge James Robertson ordered the Treasury Department to come up with ways for the blind to tell bills apart. He said he wouldn’t tell officials how to fix the problem, but he ordered them to begin working on it.

So let’s start working on it.

Let’s begin with my scented currency plan. I admit there are some problems. First, this plan could further discriminate against the blind because they would have to inconveniently sniff all of their bills before paying for things. This may, in fact, make the problem worse. Also, the smells could fade over time, especially when sandwiched between an ass and a chair, encased in a hot leather wallet.

Sure, these are all good reasons to doubt the effectiveness of my idea. But there are some interesting marketing opportunities for the Treasury. I can envision an incredible bidding war from food and materials producers for the right to be the scent of specific currency. What would Cinnabon pay to have a $10 bill smell like their delectable treats? Or what if Hugo Boss could make its scent cover the $1000 bill? Oh my! We could fix our economy.

Other options? Perhaps we could make our currency vibrate, or talk to us? If so, what voice would it be? James Earl Jones might be a good option. Or the Smith Barney guy. Maybe we use different textures on the face of the bill. It might be interesting to imagine what different textures could be used to evoke value. What feel has more value? Smooth or rough?

Likely, some form of Braille would work. The Braille system, devised in 1821 by Louis Braille, is a method that is widely used already by blind people to read and write. This is what they will probably do, but I wonder if those bumps will slowly get flattened over time as the bills pass through vending machines and wallets. All the more reason for creatives to come to the rescue with a better plan.

Okay. Go.

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PUBLISHED ON Nov.28.2006 BY Jimm Lasser
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Different sizes.
That is what most of the world has been doing for a very long time.

On Nov.29.2006 at 01:43 AM
Toby stokes’s comment is:

Braille made from perforations?
Different Shapes?
Just use a debit card?

On Nov.29.2006 at 05:25 AM
Maaike’s comment is:

Euro banknotes have both different sizes and a special printing method (intaglio) has been used, with which patterns in relief have been printed. Blind people (with sensitive fingers) can actually feel which note they're holding in their hands.

On Nov.29.2006 at 06:48 AM
akatsuki’s comment is:

I think special textures for each bill would be really useful, even if you are not blind. Different lengths might be okay, but actually less useful as you have to feel the whole bill to get the length. Braille, unless you cover the whole thing, would also have a problem of orientation.

The beauty of textures is that you don't have to change anything else on the bill.

On Nov.29.2006 at 08:18 AM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Akatsuki, both dimensions different, not just length. Your domain name suggests you have some connection to the UK. If that is the case, you know that the difference in note sizes is easy because they are different in both dimensions



On Nov.29.2006 at 09:18 AM
Von Glitschka’s comment is:

How about talking money? They already have an embedded strip for security so just shove a nano speaker in there.

So lets say a blind person goes into the local store and the total for their purchase is $7.35 so they pull out what they think is a $10 but is actually a $20. The bill would speak in the voice of Andrew Jackson and say "My good man you have just selected a $20 note."

The blind person puts it back in his wallet and quickly retrieves a $10 note handing it to the cashier as it says in its best Alexander Hamilton voice "It's about time you gave your $10 note a breath of fresh air. My countenance was melancholy surrounded by all those pretentious Washington clones."

On Nov.29.2006 at 09:47 AM
Plamen’s comment is:

All European banknotes have different sizes, both hight and lenght, and small Braille style (but not Braille)symbols, e. g. triangle for 1, circle for 2, line for tens, square for hudreds...

On Nov.29.2006 at 09:54 AM
Keith McCord’s comment is:

We actually did a project about this way back in my sophmore year of college. One of the most effective ways was the different sizes, as adopted by many countries outside the US (and as already mentioned here). Another thing to consider is that many people that are legally "blind" are actually "low-sighted," meaning they actaully have some ability to distinguish things like bright colors. They also can determine the correct orientation of the bill, which would allow them to read any sort of Braille (I think Braille holes might be more suitable for money, but Braille is traditionally read as bumps). Texture seems like an easy option and easily discernible by even people who don't read Braille.

On Nov.29.2006 at 10:01 AM
Mike VerStrat’s comment is:

Different sizes would be great -- but I wonder how much waste there would be in terms of retrofitting the 600 trillion ATMs and vending machines (per medium size US city).

Yes, the talking dead white man heads would be the way to go -- get Hogwarts on the line, QUICK!

On Nov.29.2006 at 10:09 AM
m. kingsley’s comment is:

My contribution is an embedded plastic strip with ridges. The difference in size between individual ridges is like like the small bumps in an LP groove. As you run your fingernail along the strip, the vibrations emit a subtle sound.

Behold my genius.

On Nov.29.2006 at 11:21 AM
Keith McCord’s comment is:

embedded plastic strip with ridges. The difference in size between individual ridges is like like the small bumps in an LP groove. As you run your fingernail along the strip, the vibrations emit a subtle sound.

Pleasant for the sighted and non-sighted alike. Sign me up for some of those bills.

On Nov.29.2006 at 11:34 AM
eric s’s comment is:

Different sizes was my first reaction as well. But perhaps there is an even more distinct way to denote amounts?
How about notches out of the right side of the front of the bill? Similar to the notched-out tabs in a dictionary. 1 notch for a 5, 2 notches for a 10, etc. Or different shaped notches? round for 5, triangle for 10...

On Nov.29.2006 at 12:16 PM
Bennett Holzworth’s comment is:

Couldn't there be information embedded in the magnetic strip that is already there? Then a blind person could have a small inexpensive handheld reader that would tell them what bill they had in their hand. This way their is no retrofitting of ATM machines.

On Nov.29.2006 at 12:29 PM
yi’s comment is:

I agree with the different sizes and a system of die cuts. I did a currency project in school where my bills were perforated so that blind people could tear off the right amount currency depending on size and configuration. It seemed to make the most sense. I would be concerned about scented money because it might confuse seeing eye dogs, and it might start sniffing your crotch...

On Nov.29.2006 at 12:40 PM
Mike VerStrat’s comment is:

I would be concerned about scented money because it might confuse seeing eye dogs, and it might start sniffing your crotch...

Um, Yi ... Where exactly are you keeping your cash?

I am SO washing my hands after touching money from now on (no offense).

On Nov.29.2006 at 05:12 PM
Josh B’s comment is:

I may be wrong about this, but blind people are rarely faced with the immediate dilemma of choosing bills at a register or in a restaurant. I believe it's common for them to fold the bills uniquely according to their amount before they even leave the house, or to otherwise customize them with notches or nicks. When paying they just feel for those distinctions. Its when they receive change that distinguishing currency becomes problematic. (Believe it or not, some people would short change a blind person given the opportunity.)

Not that that has anything to do with designing a new system of accessible bills, I just saw a few people describing the scenario of payment inaccurately.

Non-fading smells would work in aiding a blind person to customize their bills before they leave the house, but sniffing money would still be necessary when change is given. Sadly there's one other draw back... money smells like dirt, especially old money. It's not so much the fading as the overpowering filth stink that would ruin fragrant cash.

On Nov.29.2006 at 05:34 PM
yi’s comment is:

I just saw this link on Digg. Funny, the timing couldn't be any better.


Perhaps your emails were received... and kept in a high security vault for further review. That's all the government is, a bunch of thieves.

On Nov.29.2006 at 06:09 PM
frank derose’s comment is:

it should all be different colors!

On Nov.29.2006 at 06:10 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

I think beholding Mark's genius is the way to go. Esp. the subtle sound part; like crickets.

On Nov.29.2006 at 06:22 PM
Aaron’s comment is:

It seems that a texture of some sort would be the most logical and cost-affective solution. Changing the size of bills would send the wallet industry into bankruptcy.

On Nov.29.2006 at 07:25 PM
Matthew Rodgers’s comment is:

ATMs - This is an easy excuse, but there's no worries here. Most ATMs that I've used have only dispensed $20 bills, some also dispense $10 bills. So the $20 bill has to stay the same size, and the $10 bill should be very close - prob. 1/8 in smaller on each side. ATMs could be eventually retrofitted to dispense other sizes. Vending machines would be a bigger issue -maybe the $1 and the $20 need to stay the same size, but the texture change.

You can't rely on color - some people are completely blind, others are sighted, but colorblind.

The sound chip is a non-starter, at least for the smaller bills. You've got to be able to economically produce the money - it can't cost $0.50 to make a $1 bill.

In theory, any system of holes and/or bumps could be reproduced by someone intent on defrauding the blind. However, unless you work in a coffee-shop next to the School for the Blind, the lack of opportunity should minimize this.

So here's my idea:

$1, $2, 5 bills: flat, with the $1 bill at current size, and the $2 and the $5 each a bit smaller than the next (don't want any wallet makers going out of business :) ). On each corner of the bill is a series of bumps and holes, orientated at 45º to the corners (so you can hold any corner and know which way is up). The bumps and dots are redundant, so either can be used, depending on the condition of the bill.

$10, $20, $50, $100 bills: the $10's a little smaller, the $20 the current size, the $50 and $100 are just a tiny bit bigger. In addition to the bumps and holes, they all have a "big money" texture.

$500 and $1000 bills: don't exist. Unless Jimm's reporting from a hyper-inflated future, we don't need to worry about them.

(I'll take my consulting fee in unlimited party-mix nuts, containing less than 50% peanuts)

On Nov.29.2006 at 09:44 PM
ed mckim’s comment is:

simple solution in my book is to treat it like you'd treat a 4x6 film for a pinhole camera (or large scale camera)

use notches on the edge of the bill

$1 - one round notch

$5 - two round notches

$10 - three round notches

$20 - four round notches

$50 - one triangular notch

$100 - two triangular notches

et cetera

On Nov.29.2006 at 10:49 PM
Plamen’s comment is:

The Euro

The Euro again

On Nov.30.2006 at 04:55 AM
Luuk’s comment is:

Why do People in the USA always think that they are the first who have to think of anything? All of this has been done, tested, redesigned, perfecioned and been found to work GREAT in almost all other countries in the world. It's a bloody disgrace that the US still has bills that blind people can't tell apart.

Notches and smells are of course way to easy to manipulate. Use some deodorant or a pair of scissors and you can fool the blind into paying way more than they have to.

Different sizes work great - and no, there is no problem for the wallet industry or money machines, small changes do work for blind people and for everybody else, a great way to distiguish bills! And multiple-marking helps, don't let it just be size or you'll leave someone else out. Textured elements and bright colors (for the near-blind) work both equally great. Please look at the history of graphic design: the Netherlands for instance have a great history (before the Euro came along) of really handy and great-looking bills. Modern, easily identified, hard to counterfeit, and pretty.

Been there, done that.

On Nov.30.2006 at 06:55 AM
Keith McCord’s comment is:

Why do People in the USA always think that they are the first who have to think of anything?
I don't think anyone is really claiming to be the first one to develop these ideas (except maybe the scented money and mr. kingsley's LP groovin' bill), we USA folks are just unfortunately (and ashamedly) way behind the rest of world...
Different sizes work great - and no, there is no problem for the wallet industry or money machines, small changes do work for blind people and for everybody else, a great way to distiguish bills!
Have you consulted your international bank/ATM maker/wallet industry professional on this issue? And how small is a small change?

On Nov.30.2006 at 09:29 AM
Bradley ’s comment is:

If they use notches or holes then it is far from tamper proof. One notch means one dollar, two notches is five dollars… but what about when someone decide to add another few notches to a one dollar bill. Turn a pittance into a fortune for the blind. You would have to go backwards:

One notch = 100
2 notches = 50
3 notches = 20
4 notches = 10
5 notches = 5

And lose the paper dollar. Heavily circulate the Dollar coin already being minted.

Designers like to complicate matters. Much of the world is using different sized bills with great success. It's the most logical solution. Small bills are physically smaller… who would want to trim an inch off a 100 to make it a 10?

Will the Treasury Department do it? Give them a century and maybe the bureaucratic wheels will start turning…

On Nov.30.2006 at 11:39 AM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Re: Heartfelt concern for wallet makers

1. Six years after moving to the UK I am still using my good ol' American wallet. It works fine.

2. Wallet and purse makers would make a fortune. Think of all the obsessive people (like designers) who would have to have a new wallet to fit their new bills. Yes they would have to retool, but the rewards would be tremendous. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that the Association of American Wallet Makers has at this very moment a very expensive lobbyist in Washington trying to convince lawmakers that differently sized notes is the only possible solution.

On Nov.30.2006 at 12:01 PM
darrel’s comment is:

"Why do People in the USA always think that they are the first who have to think of anything? All of this has been done, tested, redesigned, perfecioned and been found to work GREAT in almost all other countries in the world."

Well said.

America is still a very selfish society. In someways that's good (likely one of the components that has made us such a rich society) but, alas, is also why we still have a lot of discrimination in our society: "Why should I be bothered with OTHER people's problems?"

Like most accessibility issues, there are benefits for all when we look at the big picture.

Let's start with the $1 bill. We don't need it. Paper money costs us (taxpayers) much more money to maintain and produce than coins over the long haul. Switch to a dollar coin. Makes it easier for the blind to recognize, and benefits everyone else in that it's cheaper and easier to use in vending machines.

Other denominations. How about color and size? Size certainly helps the blind, but also people like me, who tend to just have a wad of random cash in their pocket. Different sizes and colors would make it a lot easier to quickly grab the right money while sitting in the drive-through.

Of course, the main folks that are against these changes are a) The paper industry (they want to keep dollar bills) and b) the vending machine industry. ;o)

And let's not forget this is a graphic design blog. Since it sounds like these bills are going to HAVE to be redesigned, let's make them look prettier while we're at it! Let's improve the form and function! ;o)

Now, if we could only get Target to give a damn about blind people's money...

On Nov.30.2006 at 12:49 PM
Plamen’s comment is:

So just in case Americans decide to get insporation from good old Europe, a reminder of last year's new Swiss Franc banknotes design project ;)

On Nov.30.2006 at 01:51 PM
Ana Ramos’s comment is:

Different sizes and colors would be most helpful, even for those who can see. Dollar bills are confusing for me, let alone blind people.
I´d say that usage gives bills a different texture as well: the smallest value are the most used ones (say 5 euro), totally different from highest value (and less circulation, say 100 euro).

On Dec.01.2006 at 02:20 PM
max’s comment is:

I think adding a scent or a texture to evoque an amount of money is ridiculous. A bill should be fucking objective and say five, ten, or one hundread but nothing more. We already have the solution its called BRAILLE

On Dec.02.2006 at 07:20 AM
Amber’s comment is:

Of course a texture for the different denominations would make sense! It would be much harder to alter or forge than simply putting holes or braille on the bill. Adding color would also be great, but as someone mentioned earlier ATM's, uscan check-outs, and vending machines would have issues.

On Dec.02.2006 at 03:16 PM
Andy Malhan’s comment is:

In India for a few years now we've had raised markings on our bills to allow the blind to know what bills they're handling. I've done an experiment with some friends and the sytem is easy, it works, and is reliable.

On Dec.04.2006 at 03:16 AM